Few people would agree with that idea, or with two bills that would allow guns to be carried in the open. But there’s a legitimate case for how open carry can improve safety.
When President Obama wept recently over the victims of the Newtown massacre, you might say the tears on his cheeks actually stoked the fires of what’s likely to be an intense gun battle in the Legislature.
Before year-end, two proposed gun bills — crafted to loosen Florida’s concealed weapons laws — made it through House and Senate committee hearings and are on paths that could lead to passage.
The House bills:
- HB 4001, sponsored by our own Republican Rep. Greg Steube of Manatee County. Steube’s bill likely will be the more controversial because it proposes to allow licensed gun owners to carry handguns openly on college campuses. (Senate companion: SB 68.)
- HB 163, primarily sponsored by Rep. Matt Gaetz, R-Fort Walton Beach. This bill will be volatile, too, because it proposes to allow Floridians who are licensed to carry concealed weapons to carry them in the open. (Senate companion: SB 300.)
You can already hear the protests coming from Tallahassee. And they are understandable. Among non-gun owners, there’s an intuitive rejection of people carrying handguns in the open.
You can understand protesting the idea of someone’s freshman daughter sitting in a Florida State University classroom next to a student wearing a holster with a loaded gun. Or you can understand how someone immediately would feel on edge, probably fearful, standing in line at a Wawa when, say, three burly, bearded young men — like characters out of a Hollywood Western — walk in the store, each with handguns belted to their hips.
Who wants either of those instances?
But there is another side to this coin. In many states where openly carrying a firearm is legal, the carriers must be licensed. They must have completed sanctioned gun-training courses and complied with extensive background and personality checks. Florida itself has exhausting requirements for someone to qualify to carry a concealed weapon. Read Chapter 790 of the Florida Statutes; there are 2,000 words that cover everything — mental health background; drug or alcohol use; criminal offenses; domestic violence and on and on.
The fact is if you sat in a classroom next to a Floridian with a concealed weapon inside his sport jacket, you actually should be relieved and feel safe — knowing that if some crazed gunman burst through the classroom door, there would be a trained, competent, law-abiding gun owner there to protect you.
Consider, too, these facts, courtesy of Rep. Steube: “After 28 years of data in Florida, licensed conceal-permit holders are six times less likely to commit a crime than law enforcement officers. Specifically, permit holders only commit misdemeanors and felonies at a rate of .0002% annually.”
And we all have learned this from the mass shootings: The perpetrators target places where they know guns will be absent.
Given the current climate — terrorists increasingly targeting us, everyone feeling less safe — Reps. Steube and Gaetz’s gun bills are not out of the norm as much as you might think. “… The right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed.”
How other states regulate guns
- Forty-three states permit the open carrying of both long guns and handguns. Of these states, 26 do not require a license and do not restrict whether the firearm is loaded or unloaded.
- Connecticut, Georgia, Maryland, New Hampshire, Rhode Island and Tennessee require a license to openly carry a handgun, but not a rifle or shotgun. Massachusetts, Minnesota, New Jersey, Texas and Utah require a license to openly carry any firearm. The remaining six states permit open carry, but impose special limitations. North Dakota limits the hours during which an unlicensed person may openly carry an unloaded handgun.
- Three states permit openly carrying specific types of firearms. South Carolina permits a long gun without a license, but prohibits openly carrying a handgun. Hawaii permits openly carrying a handgun with a license and prohibits openly carrying a long gun. Oklahoma permits openly carrying a handgun with a license but prohibits a long gun in most circumstances.
- In Texas, licensees must carry the handgun in a holster. In Oklahoma, licensees may carry an unconcealed handgun in a belt or shoulder holster or in a scabbard or case for firearms that is wholly or partially visible.
- District of Columbia, Florida, Illinois and New York prohibit the open carry of both handguns and long guns.